THE ATHLETES AND coaches at the center of “The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team” are pictured above in a recent photo taken in 2019.

A Book and Documentary of the First All Black High School Rowing Team

A book and film review: Bonnie DeShong

About a month and a half ago the producer of my radio show “BONNIE’S EYE” on 95.1 FM Chicago Drewsean Williams called me. He was excited about a documentary he had heard about called A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All Black High School Rowing Team. Williams wanted me to interview the author of the book Arshay Cooper and the director and producer of the documentary Mary Mazzio. My first response was okay that sounds interesting but what is the real hook? He said the team is from the West Side of Chicago and went to Manley High School in the 90s. That is a hook if I ever heard one. We were sent a link to view the documentary and a copy of the book. Both are powerful pieces of work that gives you an up close and personal side to these young men who had to cross several gang lines to get to school, who didn’t really like each other but grew to become family and find hope where there may not have been any.

ROWING TEAM AND coaches in the 90s.

Arshay Cooper, the team’s captain, described his life before rowing growing up on the West Side and when Michael Jordan was god. His mother was a drug addict and he did not have a relationship with his dad. School was rough and food was short in supply. “There were four liquor stores that locked down the corner of my block and it was painful. And I had a teacher that told me I was not going to live to see 18 because I missed so many days of school, but the teachers didn’t know how life was for me at home. My brothers were in gangs. I knew I didn’t want to do that. You know, and I thought about it every day because I wanted the protection, but I just decided not to. And so that was every day in the city of Chicago until my mother came home (from rehab) and I joined this amazing sport.”

The documentary is narrated by the Academy-Award/Grammy-winning artist Common; executive-produced by NBA stars Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade along with Grammy-Award winning producer 9th Wonder; and directed by award-winning filmmaker (and Olympic rower) Mary Mazzio. It takes you on the journey of these young men, Arshay, Preston, Alvin, Elliot, Pookie G, Malcolm, and Josh, some of them sons of drug dealers, drug addicts, and prostitutes, but all sons of the West Side, who had never seen a row boat let alone knew how to swim, but chose to try something different. We grow to know them, root for them, be proud of them, and even shed a tear for them.

Where are they now? You will find out when you watch the documentary and/or read the book. The documentary was scheduled to be released in theaters in March, but COVID-19 changed that, however, one COVID won’t stop this film. It will be released for streaming on July 31 on Comcast Xfinity; September 1 on NBC Peacock and Amazon later in the year.

Sit down with you children and watch this film and give them the book. They will be able to relate to it and the events of today, and it is a great conversation starter. For more information visit [https://www.amostbeautifulthing.com/].

I give the book and the documentary, A Most Beautiful Thing 5 winks of the EYE!

Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!

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